Sometimes Plans Change …

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By Bill Naron

Building bigger barnsI was scrolling through my Facebook feed today and I saw a post from one of my favorite blogs. It was an article about things to consider before making New Year’s resolutions. It was an awesome article and the main point was that before making resolutions, we should be asking ourselves where our motivation is coming from. The question was, “Are you being motivated out of selfishness, or out of a heart that has been transformed by the Gospel?” I thought this presentation was very thought-provoking, and it reminded me of when Pastor Martin was preaching out of the book of James.

“Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what [shall be] on the morrow. For what [is] your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye [ought] to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth [it] not, to him it is sin.” James 4:13-17, KJV

So, it got me to pondering: What is the correct posture for us as Christians and as passionate followers of Jesus Christ? What should our response be when it comes to New Year’s resolutions? I would argue that all plans we make long-term or short-term are subject to be changed.

The week of Christmas, I took an extended vacation from work. This vacation was much needed, as the last couple months in the Naron household have just been all kinds of crazy. I had some grand plans about how things were going to go. I had a list that seemed to be a mile long of all the different things I was going to get accomplished: change the oil on the cars, finish building the shed, finish all the laundry, fix some minor things on the cars—and the list went on and on. See, I was looking forward to this vacation, but my plan was to use this time to just get the things that it seems I never have the time for done. I figured I may not get to relax much, but my family will be so happy to have some things done around the house. Recently my in-laws moved in with us, and while it is a great situation for different reasons, it still requires the merging of two households and different schedules. It also means less storage in the house but more items to be stored. So, now the items one would normally store in a shed or in a garage were—and are currently—resting on my back porch. So, when I took vacation, I was determined that all this list was going to get accomplished and that would just be the way it was going to be.

This was all changed as my vacation continued. I spent most of my time hanging out with my wife and investing in my marriage, spending some much-needed time having fun with my children. I was even fortunate enough to get a makeover from my daughters, complete with a manicure and pedicure. It was great! Some things got done—the kids swapped rooms and the shed got finished. It was far less than I had set out to accomplish. So, as I read through the article, I began reflecting on the Scripture above and on my own example of changed plans for my vacation. I had an amazing epiphany: our plans are not set in concrete. See, I think this Scripture is not saying that we cannot make plans at all; I think the idea that James is presenting is that we should always be aware that we are called to serve our Creator, and our plans may not always be His.

What I mean by this is that everything we have been given is a gift from our Father, including our possessions and our time. The Bible says to rejoice, for this is the day that the Lord hath made. So, if all we have is a gift from the Father, it is only sensible that when we are setting goals and making plans, we should be holding to them loosely. They are subject to the “Lord-willing” clause. If the Lord wills, we will be going forward and doing this. This is a posture that is from a heart that has been transformed by the gospel, that understands life is a gift from God, and that recognizes that sometimes, for whatever reasons, God has different plans for us than we have for ourselves. In Jeremiah, it says that He knows the plans He has for us and they are plans to prosper, not to harm.

When I set out to my vacation, my plans were to simply accomplish things that would be for my own benefit. They were not bad things, but they were also things that, though I may not like it to, could wait. There were more important things to be accomplished that week I was off. It had been a crazy and busy two months, it seemed like my wife and I were not connecting, and the kids were feeling out of sorts, trying to adjust to the new way things were around the house. So, instead of organizing the physical items in the house, God’s plan for my vacation was that I would connect with my family.

While I think that it is in our nature to make plans and to work toward executing them, I think the real problem when it comes to things like New Year’s resolutions, or planning in general, is that we have to be striving toward the mindset that Jesus had in His ministry, the same mindset that was shown by the apostles. That is, we should seek what the Lord would have us do, and while things may get planned, we should not hold on to them so tightly that we are not able to be flexible if God decides to change them.

 

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Why Does God Send Worms?

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By Larry Short

“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)

I don’t know whether women struggle with this as much as we men do, but, as Americans, I think we are all way too performance oriented. Whenever something good happens to us, we have a tendency to feel a bit buoyed up. We may think, “Yes, I deserved this.”

Conversely, whenever something bad happens, we are deflated and frustrated. We also may think, “Yes, I surely deserved THIS.”

Scripture provides great anecdotal perspective on these, our very American tendencies. In the fourth chapter of the book of Jonah, we find our reluctant prophet—who so far in the story has struggled with massive disobedience issues, prejudice, and lack of compassion—acting like a spoiled child, disappointed because God has given grace to his enemies, and sitting alone on a hillside overlooking Nineveh, hoping for fire and brimstone while a spiritual revival of historic proportions is going on in the city below him.

“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’

“But the Lord replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.”’

As Jonah sat and sulked, two very interesting things happened:

“Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant.”

“But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live.’ But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’ ‘It is,’ he said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.’

“But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?’”

Jonah 4:1-11 NIV

As Elim’s young adults group, Pulse, was studying this chapter, God sent a worm to take away a shade tree I had enjoyed for 22 years: my job at World Vision. I’ve had the privilege there of doing enjoyable, meaningful, and rewarding work for more than two decades. I can’t remember when I last felt bored at work. I started an Internet program that is now the third-largest online nonprofit fundraising platform in the world, pioneered online products that now raise hundreds of millions of dollars and save or change countless thousands of lives, and enjoy a huge amount of respect and a significant sense of accomplishment.

Then along came a worm. I was informed that I was being laid off on August 3.

World Vision is a wonderful organization, despite being staffed by fallen human beings like me, and I’ve learned not to take such things personally. I’ve gone through a lot of challenging transitions in my four decades of adult work life, and each and every one has ultimately proved the truth of Paul’s words in his letter to the church at Rome:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 NIV

It’s awesome news … we, too, can claim this promise if we love God, knowing that we have been called “according to His purpose!”

I know many of you reading this are going through far tougher things than I am right now: cancer, heart disease, family or marital struggles, addictions, or financial challenges. But God’s promises are true. The same gracious and loving God sends both shade trees and worms. He cares more about building Christ-like character in us than He does about making us comfortable.

I am praying for you as you face whatever “worms” God sends your way. Thank you for praying for me as well!

P.S.—One quick insight about the worm God sent Jonah. The Hebrew word for that worm is a very specific one: Tolah, the crimson worm who, throughout Scripture (as in the messianic Psalm 22), represents Christ Himself! Our suffering Saviour is present in a very real way in the midst of whatever sufferings God brings our way to build our character. So chew in that one for awhile!

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Relationships That Are Worth Having

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By Jim DeAngelo

A brief word on my experience and growth in sharing my front and back stage with others. The process for me was long and involved.

I wish my historical lack of sharing was because I found no one of sufficient character to fit this position in my life or that I had no close friends to encourage me. Neither of these were true. What has happened to me has occurred over a period of time. I had to see myself for who I was: a person with many flaws who could only grow in my walk and character through the work of the cross. This had to go beyond an intellectual exercise. I had to understand in my heart that who Christ said I was, is, in fact, who I am. That it was okay if others accepted me or not and I could lose the fear that if they knew me, they would then reject me. That I needed to show myself better than I really was.

I found that protecting myself was more important than the risk of rejection. What I didn’t understand was that to risk rejection was the first step to real relationships with those who would make a difference in my life. The kind I wanted to talk into my life and I into theirs. We all have blind spots. The areas I was afraid to share, I already knew that the Holy Spirit wanted to change, but I wasn’t sure how to let Him. The areas I didn’t know were even more important. I was protective of myself and, therefore, not honest with myself.

The best prayers I have ever prayed were to ask God to change me to be the best husband, father, grandfather, friend, and follower of Christ I could be. I asked God to show me how to change. Through these prayers, God opened my heart to the change process and the work of the cross. I found a new, changed heart and could share the real me with the appropriate individuals, and the transformation has accelerated. Without this sharing, my progress was much slower. I now find myself in relationships that shared with me and I with them, and I understand more and more what it means to have a closer walk with God.

Some of this learning has been a process. When I am afraid for any reason, I ask God for help to change me to meet this challenge. I never ask God to remove the source of the problem; we are to be overcomers, not avoiders. Removing pretense (fear of sharing my story) is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. This has removed the fear of rejection and allowed me to pray and share with integrity and with pure motives. It is no longer about me. My knowledge, trust, acceptance, and assurance in Christ have grown significantly (though I have a lot more learning yet to come). I have significant friends and individuals in my life who are enriching me in ways I could not even have imagined a few years ago.

Start the process today and pray for God’s help in your life to be who He designed you to be. Expect it, anticipate it, trust in God and His word about who you are. Find those who can share with you about our walk with Christ and our walk with each other.

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Spare Some Change?

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By Jeff Foerster

Change. Nothing stays the same. Has your opinion ever changed? If so, how firmly to your current position do you hold? Have you ever learned something? If you have, you must admit some ignorance prior to that time. Your hairline and waistline may change. Your choice of clothing (hopefully) changes over time. Your fingernails grow, and there is nothing you can do to stop them (ask Nebuchadnezzar about this — Daniel 4:33).

With this constant personal change, the desire may build for something dependable outside of yourself to lean upon. Do not look for consistency and hope in the greatness of America. Our monetary system is smoke, clouding mirrors. Our nation’s position of leadership in the world is quickly disintegrating. Our cultural priorities have become infantile and delusional. There is more strength in dry rot.

If constancy, if hope, is not to be found within ourselves, in treasure, national might, nor human appetites of any kind, where do we look? To what or whom do we run? The Christian readily knows this answer, but do you consider, O Christian, to what lengths God has gone to demonstrate this to you? Do you see how God has spoken to all generations by the perpetual word of His creation?

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” the Scriptures tell us (Psalm 19). “Pretty!” you say, and move on with the day. But do you know what this means?

The Sun rises in the east and sets in the west each and every day like clockwork. Seasons take their place, in order, each and every year without fail. Seeds send forth shoots and trees blossom and bear fruit. Gravity continues day in and day out. Water falls from the sky, pooling upon the earth. Then, nearly imperceptibly, it vanishes into thin air, only to return again and again. Oceans roar the coming of the tides, only to shrink back a few hours later what was so forcefully pronounced, readying themselves for the next surge.

Though the human world is bent on change, even glorifying it for its own sake, God has provided stability in the chaos, a strong tower in the whirlwind. Though there be more, one great message I take from the constancy of creation echoes in the whisper of God’s own voice to us:

“… since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made …” (Romans 1:20).

Nature demonstrates His nature, consistent and reliable, upon which we can depend. The very earth upon which we live, move, and breathe testifies at all times. Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2) and we fear not because the Sun rises each day, water falls from the sky and is taken up again, and the ground brings forth fruit in season, reminding us that the Maker of all things is true to His word. Hills speak, “God is our Rock,” and mountains proclaim, “Yahweh is our Firm Foundation.” Oceans roar, “Jesus is our Strong Tower!” The wind cries “Faithful and True!” and the heavens declare the glory of our great God!

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Change in the Making

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By Tom Chase

It’s funny … the older I get, the more reflective I guess I become. I find myself wanting to have lived well. And asking myself if I’ve done so. It can be really easy to get to the place where we come down pretty hard on ourselves. Maybe at times that is warranted — a simple kick in the pants to remind us who we are. However, when we dwell in that self- (or other-) inflicted perspective, that we will never measure up, it can be difficult to move in a positive direction. The great news is that God does not expect us to live in that environment. He is not the source of the condemnation. He does and will convict us, but He does not hold us down with our condemnation.

Romans 8:1 tells us, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

In Christ, we do not stand condemned!!!

As Ephesians 1:2-14 tells us, in Him we are:

  • Blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
  • Chosen before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.
  • Predestined for adoption (to be his kids) by His pleasure and will.
  • Redeemed through His blood.
  • Forgiven of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.
  • Grace-lavished people (recipients of God’s abundant grace).
  • Made an insider to the mystery of his will—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
  • Chosen for the praise of His glory.
  • Marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession

All this is to the praise of His glory! In addition, we can remind ourselves of this because He has reminded us that He is not through with us yet.

Philippians 1:6—“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

It is from this perspective that we can be freed to experience God’s changing power and live in the hope He has called us to.  The rest of chapter one of Ephesians tells us of that hope and the amazing power that is available to us.  If you would like, just read it and allow Him to heal the hurts that may be holding you back.

If music speaks to you, one more thing that may encourage you, like it does me, is this song by Addison Road:

“Change in the Making”

There’s a better version of me
That I can’t quite see
But things are gonna change
Right now I’m a total mess and
Right now I’m completely incomplete
But things are gonna change
‘Cause you’re not through with me yet

This is redemption’s story
With every step that I’m taking
Every day, you’re chipping away
What I don’t need
This is me under construction
This is my pride being broken
And every day I’m closer to who I’m meant to be
I’m a change in the making

(for more see link below)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yU2drg8FtBg

Enjoy!

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Change

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By Brian Waple

A number of years ago, I read a small book called “Who Moved My Cheese?” It dealt with how we handle and adjust to change. By its very nature, change can be scary, especially if we’re comfortable with how things have been. But, change allows us to see what can be and in some cases, what needs to be.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus preached change. Change in how we view and worship  God; change in our relationships with those around us; and change in how we see ourselves. His birth, life, death and resurrection and what that meant was a complete change from what the Jews had been taught to believe for years.

In one of his earliest and probably most extensive teachings to the Jewish followers, Jesus introduced ideas that completely changed how people thought. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3); “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5); “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…” (Matt. 5:11-12); “You have heard that it was said ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matt. 5:43-44). Later, when faced with questions about the legality of healing on the Sabbath, Jesus changed the rules again: “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matt. 12:11-12)

Just prior to his final days, Jesus introduced a change to the understanding of the Jewish law when asked about the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40).

Finally, as he was breathing his last, Jesus changed how we deal with persecution. In spite of being falsely accused, unjustly tried, publicly humiliated, beaten, flogged, and forced to suffer the most inhuman horror imaginable on the cross, Jesus had this to say about his persecutors: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Jesus changed the landscape forever … we had been living under a covenant of law; now we are living within a covenant of grace.

Change can be scary. Often, it can be uncomfortable. But it has also been a part of what’s defined the church from the beginning. During the next few months, our church will be undergoing some changes. Your leadership is confident that the changes are for the good of the body. This is an exciting time for Elim and if you have any questions about the changes that are happening, please talk with Martin, Brian or one of the Elders.

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